Sex on sale in Belgian condom machines?

Yes, I must admit, it was a great surprise to see two tubes with a sexual connotation and the title “Sex on sale” on the cover of Design Week (20 October 1995). Unfortunately, the article was a bit of a disappointment.

I am a young Belgian designer and about two years ago I designed a condom-vending machine named Totem. And those two tubes on DW’s cover were – in part – the Totems.

In the article, Rowland Heming questioned the “increasing use of sensuality and the human form in packaging design”.

From my point of view, Heming was criticising the fact that some designers were using sensuality in their products. He showed us some packaging design examples to illustrate his opinion. My disappointment came from the fact that the Totems were shown but not explained, therefore the reader had no idea of what they were. It is true that sensuality – or should I say sexuality – is used in their design, but I would like to explain the reason for it.

I decided to design the Totem because I felt that existing condom-vending machines were not up to date with modern society (AIDS and so on being high on the agenda). They are featureless, their design having nothing to do with the product they contain. Why? Because the condom is still a taboo product in contemporary society. Some people still find it disturbing.

I therefore decided to design this machine as an anti-taboo statement. This is the reason for the somewhat sexual aspect of Totem, as I was trying to break this taboo. My starting point was that this product should show clearly what it sells just as any other product does.

As Heming pointed out in his article, “in olden days packaging was simply used to sell the product, perhaps giving a hint of how and where it might be used”. The traditional condom-vending machine didn’t even do that. It was trying to remain unseen in a dark corner of a bar’s toilet.

Even though I do partly agree with Heming’s opinion that the use of sensuality is gratuitous in “selling non-related products such as food and drink”, I would like to conclude by saying that rather than being a random design, this condom-vending machine displays a relation between its appearance, its use, the condoms and all the rest of the fun.

Philippe Swimberghe

B-7090 Braine Le Comte


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